(There's a cold feeling in my gut that won't go away. What started out as a dull scratching has warped into a density occupying my innards. As if my organs have begun shutting down. I push it from my mind. I have bigger things lacing my thoughts right now. Redemption. He's been judged. His punishment will be severe. He doesn't quite grasp his fate yet. I advised him to forget about titles. To let go of his petty desires. He failed to listen. Now he's Network Champ. One more thing I have to take from him. Though he evades me, I knew he couldn't resist the allure of the Christmas Tree Match. So I'm in it too. Whatever happens....this is only the beginning.

It's now I'm released from my thoughts and resurface from inside myself. I'm now aware of the heat and movement of the water around me. Ember watches me from her side of the hot tub. Exhaustion fills her features. With what is coming, I've had to work her even harder than I had been. I need her to be ready. There will be no second chances. Still, she needed this break. This bit of relaxation. Maybe we both do. Her red eyes analyze me as always. In her presence I always feel the same scrutiny. Constantly trying to deconstruct the layers of who and what I am. She continually measures herself against me. Whether she realizes it or not, she's closed the gap between us considerably over the past months. There's still a lot of work to go. The single-mindedness of her purpose still impresses me. A drive like hers is rare in this world. I saw it in her that night. It's what compelled me to kidnap her. To mold her into what I did at the time. It was so long ago now. Back when I crushed dreams, and destroyed identities, for my own selfish purposes. My sorrow over my past deeds is laced with bitterness. Acrid memories slowly eroding what's left of my soul.

I thought I would think less about my past over time, but I haven't. It's not that I wanted to forget. I deserve to live with the pain I've caused. I need it to reside in my heart. I just didn't think it would haunt me to this degree. Though Ember is a constant reminder, it is not her presence that causes this. I'm at a loss as to what provokes my sorrow to continue to carry so much weight. Her voice breaks me from my self analysis.)

So why are we just sitting here in a hot tub instead of training more?

(She already knows the answer to her own question. The exhaustion that consumes her mentally, and physically, is more than evident. She just doesn't want to accept it. Still, I indulge her.)

You've gotta give yourself time to recover. Just relax and enjoy yourself for once.

(It's laughable those words even came from my mouth. I have no clue what relaxation or enjoyment even are. I don't think I've really experienced either in my existence. She reluctantly accepts my answer. Things go silent again for a long moment before a strange expression crosses her features.)


(A sigh escapes my lips. Not even sure why. I'm not frustrated with her in the least. I think I'm just reluctant to let go of the silence. Of my internal suffering. Apparently I'd prefer to indulge in wallowing rather than talk.)


(There's a far off look in her eyes. It's accompanied by a pause. When she speaks again her voice is softer. Less sure.)

Do you ever wonder what the point to it all is?

(I don't let it show, but the question catches me off guard. It's not the kind of thing she would normally ask. I guess I'm not the only one with a heavy mind. My answer may sound flippant, but it's not untrue.)

Every damn day....

(With that I climb out of the hot tub and grab a towel. I put it to my face and breathe into it for a moment before drying my skin. After wrapping it around my body I look down at her.)

Try to push these thoughts from your mind Ember. You'll only bring yourself misery.

(I flash her a smile. It's half-hearted. Just a gesture. Still, it's one I rarely make. She nods. It's the only comfortable response she can make. I head to my bedroom and find myself not bothering to fully dry off, or change. Instead, I flop down on the bed and stare at the ceiling. Now I can't move. It's as if the weight of centuries presses down on me. Holding me in place. My first reaction is to fight it. Instead I just close my eyes and drift off into the emptiness of sleep.)

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